A mom who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 44 has shared her surprising symptoms of the disease.
Donna Marshall, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has Parkinson’s disease at a young age and started experiencing unusual symptoms in her mid-twenties.
The mother of one, who is now 54, claimed that one of the first symptoms she experienced was a loss of taste and smell — a lesser-known warning sign of the disease.
She also claimed to have become a compulsive shopper, a behavior change seen in some patients. The businesswoman said the illness even led her to spend thousands on an extravagant Halloween display.
Parkinson’s, which usually occurs in people over the age of 50, is more commonly known for causing problems such as trembling, slow movements, and stiffness.
Donna Marshall, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, has Parkinson’s disease at a young age and started experiencing lesser known signs of the disease at just 26 years old
Mrs Marshall (pictured with her daughter Beau) who was diagnosed just a decade ago, said her symptoms even led her to spend thousands on an extravagant Halloween display
A loss of smell and taste were the first symptoms Mrs. Marshall noticed, nearly two decades before she was diagnosed.
She said, “The sense of smell went first, I was about 26.
“I didn’t mind, and with that you get a lack of taste in food.”
A reduction in smell, known medically as anosmia, is experienced by up to 95 percent of people with the disease and is often the first sign of the disease.
Trembling, another telltale symptom, did not appear until Mrs. Marshall was out for a walk on New Year’s Eve 16 years later.
She said, “I was walking along the beach on the Isle of White.
“I looked at my hand and it was shaking, I wondered why that was. Now I know clearly, it was Parkinson’s.’
About 18,000 Britons and 90,000 Americans are diagnosed each year, and charities estimate that one in 37 people alive today will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
The disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which causes a drop of dopamine in the brain.
This messenger hormone plays a vital role in regulating movement in the body, hence the droplet can cause characteristic tremor symptoms.
Those with early-onset Parkinson’s tend to experience a slower progression of the disease over time and have fewer cognitive symptoms, such as dementia.
However, they may suffer more from physical complaints and side effects of medication.
One of the least known effects of Parkinson’s is compulsive behaviors, such as gambling addiction, binge eating, and excessive shopping.
It is linked to changes in the body’s dopamine levels and may be a side effect of medications taken to fight the disease.
Ms Marshall said she has met a number of people who also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since being diagnosed.
She said, “You have the gambling addiction, the shopping addiction, and the sexual addiction, and it’s not very fun.”
The OCD that Mrs. Marshall suffers from came into full force last Halloween when she decided to turn her garden into a haunted attraction.
A loss of smell and taste were the first symptoms Mrs. Marshall noticed, nearly two decades before she was diagnosed
Trembling, another telltale symptom, did not appear until Mrs. Marshall (pictured with her partner Keith Madgett) was out for a walk on New Year’s Eve 16 years later
Ms Marshall (pictured with her daughter Beau) claims an intolerance to stimulants, such as caffeine, beer and sugar, is one of the many symptoms of the disease
Ms Marshall (pictured with partner Keith) said her main advice for other people diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age is to try to find others who are suffering from the disease to talk to
Ms Marshall said: ‘Normally people would just put a pumpkin outside. I went full throttle.
‘I spent thousands of pounds on professional dancers, I converted the front garden into a huge, very large graveyard.
‘It was fantastic, all the kids loved it, but I didn’t have to go that far and that’s about it [OCD] Unfortunately yes.’
But Ms. Marshall says dystonia – repetitive twitching, spasms or cramps that can be painful and last for hours – is the symptom that drastically affects her life.
Mrs Marshall said: ‘The worst thing about having Parkinson’s for me is the dystonia, because my foot cramps and then my back cramps.
What is Parkinson’s?
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease. The disease affects the nerve cells in the brain that control movement.
Over time, the symptoms gradually get worse. It can cause symptoms related to movement, as well as pain, depression, and loss of smell.
Most people who get Parkinson’s are over 60, but one in 10 is under 50 and it affects more men than women.
What causes the symptoms?
Nerve cells in the brain send messages to the rest of our body to control our movements. This is done using chemicals called neurotransmitters.
A part of the brain called the substantia nigra produces one of the neurotransmitters that control movement: dopamine. But in 70 to 80 percent of people with Parkinson’s, these dopamine-producing cells deteriorate and die.
The loss of dopamine-producing neurons results in low levels of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls movement and balance.
Source: Parkinson’s Europe
“I can’t walk at all, I can’t even put one foot in front of the other. The hardest thing for me is that I can’t live a normal lifestyle.
“So ordinary everyday things that you would normally do are difficult for someone with Parkinson’s.
“Just walk up the stairs, just make a cup of tea, feed yourself, all that stuff.”
Mrs. Marshall tries to keep her own daughter, Beau, aged nine, from seeing the debilitating side of the disease.
She said, “I wake up early and take my pills on the couch while I watch TV until I’m ready for business as usual.”
Her mother, Margaret, also suffered from Parkinson’s.
Margaret died at the age of 80, having been left in a vegetative state for the last six years of her life.
Mrs Marshall said: ‘They fed her through a feeding tube, which in hindsight is the worst thing that could have happened to her.
“She only survived through medical intervention, and then the decision to take that tube away fell on us as a family, which is just the worst thing anyone could do.”
Ms Marshall underwent deep brain stimulation surgery last week, which included having a device placed in her brain that targets certain areas.
The hope is that the device will ease the pain of some of her symptoms, including dystonia.
Her main advice for other people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age is to try and find others who suffer from the disease to talk to.
She said, “There’s a lot of people on Facebook, there’s a lot of advice,
“I think the best thing I did was connect with people like me, who have Parkinson’s at a young age, because it’s a different animal than when you’re older, it manifests in a different way.”